Rachel's Connections Should Keep An Open Mind About the Breeders' Cup

By Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA

Rachel Alexandra has waged a truly historic campaign this year, and we're not halfway through September.  The marvelous 3-year-old filly has taken on the best of her male contemporaries twice and beaten them each time-in the Preakness and in the Haskell. The last two times she challenged those of her own sex, the results were laughably lopsided. And this past Saturday's win over older males in the Woodward was undoubtedly her most exciting race of the year. It all adds up to a body of work that you just don't see three-year-old fillies compile. My strong suspicion is that Rachel will win the 2009 Horse of the Year award even if she takes the rest of the year off. The only possible way it could turn out any differently is if Zenyatta wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, or defeats Rachel head-to-head at some other venue.

And if Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen determine that their star now needs some time off, you certainly cannot question that decision.  No matter what happens the rest of the year, all racing fans have something to look forward to next year when America's super filly is expected to race again.  

Indeed, early post-Woodward media accounts indicate that Jackson is leaning towards Rachel being given the rest of the year off. But if she bounces out of her race well and the decision is made to keep her in training, Jackson should race her in this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships.   Unfortunately, long before Jackson entered his filly in the Woodward, he made clear his intention not to run her in this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita.

It's obvious that Jackson, along with co-owner Harold McCormick, has campaigned Rachel Alexandra with plenty of derring-do. That tells you right there that Jackson wouldn't skip the Breeders' Cup because he is afraid of Zenyatta or a mile and a quarter or anything else for that matter. The issue comes down to synthetic tracks or "plastic" as he is prone to call Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.

Jackson sounds like a graduate of the traditionalist school that believes real horses run on real dirt. Whether it was the Pro-Ride that got Curlin beat in the Breeders' Cup Classic last year or the fact that Curlin may not have been at the peak of his form, we will never know. In any event, Jackson seemed determined not to allow the same script to play out again this year long before RA even raced in the Haskell-and that is too bad.

I say that not because of how much fun it would be to see Rachel Alexandra run against Zenyatta. There is no guarantee, even if both made it to Santa Anita in early November that they would wind up in the same race.  It's just that our sport has but a few events that are almost as big as the sport itself.  The Kentucky Derby is one of those examples. And so are the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Certainly, no one can or should ever tell an owner where to run his or her horse.  If Jackson sticks to his no-Breeders' Cup-this-year guns, I will be disappointed just like so many of you, but I will respect his right to make that decision, especially knowing that he would never do anything that he thinks might jeopardize his horse's well being. Still, it seems like every sport has certain events that transcend their specific conditions. Roger Federer hasn't always been at his best on clay, but he doesn't skip the French Open. Tiger Woods, I'm sure, prefers not to play in windy, rainy conditions, but that possibility doesn't keep him from entering the British Open. Within our world of horse racing in the United States, the Breeders' Cup has at least the same status as that of the French Open in tennis or the British Open in golf.  

But the decision whether to run her in the Breeders' Cup should be based solely on whether her herculean efforts in the Woodward left her tank perilously close to "E".  If Rachel Alexandra does need a break, she more than deserves one.    No one can seriously challenge that decision now that she has performed so well during such a grueling campaign.

Nonetheless, I for one am disappointed that she apparently will not run   in the Breeders' Cup.    Far too often, I hear complaints from industry insiders and fans that horse racing does not have as much structure as other sports.   Yet, when it comes to a year-end blockbuster, we have been marvelously blessed with the Breeders' Cup since 1984. If you're a top talent and you're healthy and race-ready, the Breeders' Cup provides more than ample incentive-financial and otherwise-for racing's very best  to be there competing. Rachel Alexandra may not "need" the Breeders' Cup this year to sew up year-end honors, but if she is healthy, it will be a disappointment if her immense talent is not on display there before such a vibrant, race-loving crowd and national and international television audiences. What a day that could be for our sport.

Certainly Rachel Alexandra showed she didn't mind synthetics one bit when she won very impressively at Keeneland last October. And, hey, even Roger Federer won the French Open this year.  But for quite some time now, the decision whether to run RA in the BCWC has seemed to be less about Rachel Alexandra's health or her chances for success and more about making a statement. Jackson has every right to make that statement, and doing so won't take anything away from his remarkable filly.  My one regret is that it WILL take something away from those who have come to adore her.

If Rachel runs again this year, where would you like to see her compete?

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